RYAN LAUDERDALE '13
The press release for your recent exhibition at KANSAS gallery, New York, states, “Lauderdale attempts to resurrect ‘dead’ objects encountered online and archive them in such a way that binds those haunting relics into physical manifestation.” Could you talk more about what you consider “dead objects?”
I like the word “haunt” a bit more actually. A haunting is more like a residue then an object, like the impression of something that once was but is now gone. It is an unspoken, nonreferential vestige. Its source is completely blurred, yet it still transmits an enigmatic essence that alters the atmosphere and temperature of its surroundings. I’m interested in trying to rechannel these transmissions back into new material realities.
Like a “dead” mall that has lost an anchor store and now has corridors that are devoid of pedestrian traffic and shops, something once fluid is now frozen. They aren’t so much dead as undergoing a change in state, morphing, mutating, and recasting context. for the objects I draw from, most have changed states from the physical into the immaterial, the JPEG. A piece of furniture with 360 degrees of view and various textures and materials is now compressed into a collection of colored specks on a backlit screen. Its interior self, although now more obscured, is still alive and haunts whatever new environs it inhabits on the screen.
I search for forgotten objects and styles from the past that cannot be neatly categorized. A Le Corbusier chair has so much scholarship around it—it is totally understood and canonized—but you also encounter objects that look kind of like Le Corbusier, but are twenty years too late and don’t really contribute or add to the canon. Rather, they float between a constellation of canons. Uncovered, they appear almost alien and fossil-like, estranged from their original context. These phenomena are as interesting as the canonical objects. Things are more stewed in real life, and the space between two well-kept compartments can be filled with endless divergent potential.
What comes to mind when you think about your time at Hunter College now?
Well, it hasn’t really been all that long since I left Hunter, but, for sure, the thing that comes to mind is the fact that I witnessed this strange death of the 41st Street building. My thesis class was the last group to do a show at the Times Square Gallery and we were also left alone at 41st Street for our last semester while the rest of the program moved down to 205 Hudson Street. The 41st Street building was already in disrepair when I started, but there was a sense of life in the air. Everyone was hidden away, buried behind the ramshackle bits of drywall and wood in the labyrinthine nooks and crannies of the floors. So, you never really saw anyone, but you could feel that there was life. After everyone moved, the sense of the building really changed. It seemed to start aging much faster. Walls formed holes, strange smells started coming up in the stairwells and plumbing, and light bulbs went out. The whole place felt vacant and decayed, and you kind of felt all alone despite having your twenty or so fellow MFA students in the same building.
Once thesis was over and people started moving out, things became really weird. I was one of the very last people to move out and walking around the building was surprisingly frightening. Spaces had opened up and everything was exposed. Every floor felt completely desolate and hollow. There was trash and strange material everywhere, and I explored all the gutted rooms I had never seen. I never will forget the day of my move out; I walked around and sort of said my goodbyes to the building, and I wandered into this large room I had never been in on the second floor. It was not a studio space, but must have been used by the college because it was filled with mountains of fliers and catalogues and other paper ephemera going back all the way to the 1980s. It was like discovering an abandoned house or shack in the woods filled to the ceiling with old magazines.
I know there are several places that are very inspirational to you such as abandoned malls and modernist utopian architecture, like Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Could you describe what draws you to these places and how they inform your sculptures?
I grew up in small town in Oklahoma. It was a very pleasant childhood and a good place to let your imagination run wild, but it was a place that existed in a sort of past tense. Things were covered with this deteriorating patina of the 1950s and 1960s. And, as I became older and the world around me changed, the town remained the same, just showing more signs of age. When I would venture out into the suburbs of Tulsa and go to a mall, it was like visiting the future. Things were clean and the design of those spaces felt very intentional and orderly. It was aspirational to me, and I would return home and dream of some wonderful, modern future.
Once the naïvety of that wore off, I sort of began to understand that shopping malls really were places designed to encourage you to spend money and that the car-culture glut of the suburbs was, in fact, a very distasteful way to approach and inhabit a space, . . . but malls have rich historical value. from their opening to abandonment, you can study the evolution of modernism through the lens of malls. Initially malls tried to exploit the grandeur of state-funded public buildings and parks, like Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York, which stood as aspirational symbols of a culture desiring to dispense with the past and bring the future into concrete reality. Like those modernist buildings, malls were supposed to bring people together with water fountains, grand architecture, and landscaped sitting areas for socializing, . . . but mall aesthetics shifted from futuristic to traditional. The plazalike chrome and glass food courts of a mall in the 1970s had, by the late 1990s, become a 1950s black-and-white-checkered-tile theme park with fake Cadillac tail fins on the booths. The desire for the future had become a desire for the good old days. It wasn’t modernist or utopian at all; it was just another place to buy things. Malls failed.
Oral Roberts University is a somewhat similar story of aspirational projecting. It is, ironically, a place that is completely torn about exactly what it is trying to be. On one end, it is trying to manifest the kingdom of God on earth, and on the other, it is channeling the much more carnal zeitgeist of space-aged, theatrical Googie architecture that was happening across the western U.S. Its designer, Frank Wallace, has said that he was making sculptures, not buildings. visiting the campus now, it becomes clear that heaven never descended to earth and that we never became the Jetsons that Googie envisioned. Instead, the walls and courtyards of the university have become cracked with age. It’s what [author] William Gibson would call “Raygun Gothic,” a vision of a future that never came to be. It sits in south Tulsa now, like a haunting of a speculative past / future.
I’m drawn to those places; I want to dig up the bones of those worlds. The studio becomes a place to find the ghostly atmosphere that permeates a lot of that material. It’s a rifling through and an exploitation of past mannerisms in attempt to modulate those styles into something new. The virtual interiors of these sources still remain intact to haunt the final piece. I’m trying to hybridize certain aspects of utopian modernism into new forms that possess a conscious memory of their failure, and perhaps, through that consciousness, contribute to the process of reincarnation.
Images: City of Faith (CitiPlex Towers), Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2013. 35mm scans, courtesy the artist.